Tilting skillets work much like stoves, with either gas orifices or heating elements that cover the entire underside of the pan. This allows operators to cook at set and consistent temperatures using precise controls.
Culinary staff can use this equipment in prep areas of big or small, institutional or commercial kitchens to reduce production time, save energy and increase batch consistency. These units can even replace range tops in many applications. Due to their depth, tilting skillets can often perform the same tasks as steam-jacketed kettles or stock pots. When used in conjunction with basket inserts or perforated steam table pans, these units also can serve as steamers. Common in high-volume institutional applications, one 30-gallon tilting skillet can produce as many as 350 meals per hour.
These versatile units can serve as a kettle for cooking soups, stews, chili, rice, pasta and sauces. Operators can use a skillet to pan-fry such menu items as donuts, fried chicken, fish fillets and french fries. As a braiser, tilting skillets quickly brown food and simmer products. When used as an oven, this equipment can bake or roast all types of meat and poultry. Tilting skillets can serve as a griddle for preparing bacon, burgers, grilled sandwiches, pancakes, French toast, eggs and sausage as well as stir-fry dishes. When used in conjunction with a steam pan insert, these units can steam vegetables, seafood and other items. Tilting skillets can serve as both a warmer to thaw frozen items or as a chilling station in conjunction with ice to cool steamed product.
Although 30- and 40-gallon sizes are the most popular, this equipment is available in 12- and 16-gallon sizes for countertops and 15-gallon floor models for operations with limited ventilation hood space. Most units measure 10 inches deep.
Structural supports are generally made of low-carbon steel. Operators can choose between open-leg and closed-base models. Available finishes include bead blast, which has a rougher, dimpled surface to help prevent food from sticking to the surface, and a hand-ground finish that is smoother for easier cleaning.
Electrical units are available in 12 kilowatts or 18 kilowatts, while gas offers 30,000, 93,000 or 126,000 Btus.
Tabletop models typically come with only manual tilting mechanisms, while floor units provide either electric or crank tilting mechanisms. Most power tilt skillets offer a manual override feature. Pans tilt either from the front or center to provide different pour paths for dispensing.
Operators can also choose from a number of other options, including a 2-inch tangent draw valve like in steam kettles and spring assist covers or gallon markings for easy measuring. Solid-state temperature controls on some models provide accurate temperatures and can help increase energy efficiency. Gas-fired skillets with aluminum core heating surfaces and electric units with aluminum cast-in elements provide improved heat distribution.
Available accessories include pan carrier and steam pan inserts, which are necessary for steaming tasks. Other options and accessories include pour strainers, marine locks, stands with sliding drain pans, lift-off covers, ergonomic handles, casters and flanged feet.
When preparing to purchase a tilting skillet, operators should begin by determining their needs and volume, according to Steve Waltz, senior associate project manager for Cini-Little International, based in Washington, D.C.
“These units are typically for high-volume uses since large batches can be prepared at one time and also are very versatile,” Waltz says. “Operators can use tilting skillets as a grill, for braising items and can steam with the lid on, which is screwed down and sealed.”
This equipment takes up between 36 and 48 inches of space and needs clearance around it for easy cleaning. “These units require a trench drain in front to dump out water when cleaning,” says Waltz. “There’s typically a trough in front of it to catch food in the skillet’s path.”
It is also convenient to locate a faucet by the skillet for access to hot and cold water. “Once an item is cooked, cool water can be added to the skillet to stop the cooking process,” says Waltz.
One common mistake is purchasing a tilting skillet with the wrong pour path. Operators should assess how the unit will be tilted and its configuration to determine where and how liquids will be dispensed. Operators also should ensure that the correct power source is available, whether the unit is gas or electric. This includes assessing whether the gas skillet requires natural or propane fuel. For electric units, assess whether the infrastructure can handle the necessary voltage and amp draw.
The majority of tilting skillets feature stainless-steel construction without much variation. Compare the unit’s dimensions to the delivery path space to ensure the equipment will easily fit through the kitchen’s doors and hallways.
Cleaning & Maintenance Considerations
Don’t use steel wool to clean a tilting skillet, says Dennis Black, a service tech at Baltimore-based EMR. “This impregnates stainless-steel and causes it to rust,” he says. Instead, it’s best to use non-scratch scrubbers.
Because certain utensils, like square-edge turners, can cause pitting on the pan surface, use only rounded-edge utensils with this equipment. Refrain from using a caustic cleaner or one that is too strong as it will impact the metal. “This will get into the metal and cause rot, which is an expensive repair,” Black says.
Operators will also want to avoid getting the tilting skillet too wet underneath when it’s in an upright position, or they risk shorting out the electronics. This will require a service call. “For cleaning, we recommend using soap and water with a non-scratching pad,” says Black. “These units don’t require much preventative maintenance.”
Black does recommend greasing the tilting mechanism every six months to ensure the crank doesn’t stick or become difficult to use. “One common problem with this unit is uneven heating on the skillet deck,” he says. “This may be caused by debris or dirt underneath and require a service tech to remedy.”
Debris could also fill the pilot or gas tube and cause a boom sound during ignition. Delayed ignition also is a common issue.
These units should never be turned on high heat when there is no liquid inside. Doing so repeatedly will eventually cause the pan to warp, compromising the heating surface.
New tilting skillet pans should be seasoned by covering the bottom with oil and heating every few minutes. This helps prevent sticking and makes cleanup easier. The seasoning process should be repeated after heavy cleaning.
Residual heat can warm up water in the skillet, which will make it easier to remove food debris from the bottom of the pan at the end of the day.
“The service life for tilting skillets is between 7 and 10 years on average, but it depends on the kitchen,” says Black. “It can be as little as 3 years and as much as 20 years.”
A service tech can determine if a unit needs replacing, but if the tilting mechanism goes bad or there is a gas leak, and the unit is older or the cost of repair is high, replacement is most likely warranted.